A Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management You can make a difference!

A Homeowner’s Guide to
Stormwater Management
You can make
a difference!
Prepared by:
Learn what you can do on your
property and in your community to
improve the health of your watershed.
Office of Watersheds
Philadelphia Water Department
Volume 1 • January 2006
The Office of Watersheds would
like to thank the following
organizations and partners for
their assistance and for the use
of their materials in this guide:
Center for Watershed
Fairmount Park Commission
The information contained in this guide is being offered by the City of
Philadelphia (City) through its Water Department (PWD) for the use
of residents of the City. Please note that the stormwater management
projects or Best Management Practices (BMPs) in this guide are
voluntary projects recommended strictly for homeowners. They are
not designed for professionals required to comply with the City’s
Stormwater Regulations.
National Oceanic &
Atmospheric Administration
If you plan to install any of the following structural projects on
your property in the City, please notify PWD via its e-mail address
([email protected]): Rain Barrels, Rain Gardens, or
Dry Wells. PWD would like to register your project with the City’s
Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I). Also, PWD encourages
you to take photographs of your project and to send them to PWD via
the above e-mail address
Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP)
If you experience problems with any water or sewer piping on your
property, you should contact a registered plumber.
Pennsylvania Horticultural
While every attempt has been made to furnish the latest and most
up-to-date information in this guide, updates, revisions, modification
deletions, and additions may have taken place after the production and
distribution of this guide.
Montgomery County
Conservation District
NAM Planning & Design, LLC
Philadelphia Department of
South River Federation
University of Wisconsin —
Washington State Puget Sound
Action Team
Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources
Wissahickon Valley Watershed
The user of this guide is not relieved of their duty to obtain any
revisions or updates. PWD is not liable for the use of information in
this guide that results in additional costs due to changes that occurred
after the production of this guide.
This guide is provided to you on an “AS IS” and “WITH ALL FAULTS”
basis. You acknowledge that you assume the entire risk of loss in using
this guide and the information provided herein, including without
limitation any loss incurred by any End User. You further acknowledge
that this guide is complex and may contain some nonconformities,
defects and/or errors. PWD does not warrant that this guide will meet
your needs or expectations, or that all nonconformities can or will
be corrected. PWD assumes no risk, liability or responsibility for the
accuracy of this guide.
A Homeowner’s Guide to
Stormwater Management
Table of
Vehicle Maintenance..................................................3
Lawn & Garden Care............................................. 4 – 5
Pet Waste........................................................................6
Vehicle Washing...........................................................7
Tree Planting.........................................................8 – 10
Caring for your Backyard Stream........................ 11
Winter De-Icing................................................. 12 – 13
Planters (Container Gardens)............................... 14
Rain Barrels......................................................... 15 – 17
Rain Gardens...................................................... 18 – 20
Creating a Wildflower Meadow....................21– 22
Dry Wells...............................................................23– 25
Infiltration Test....................................................26– 27
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management Introduction
he Office of Watersheds of the Philadelphia Water
Department has a vision for Philadelphia—“Clean
Water—Green City.” We want to unite the City with
its water environment, creating a green legacy for future
generations while incorporating a balance between ecology,
economics and equity.
In order to achieve the goal of “Clean Water-Green City,”
we must work together with our partners, local residents,
homeowner associations and municipalities on managing
stormwater in a manner that will restore our watersheds.
We can all play a part in taking an active role in converting
our streams, creeks and surrounding green spaces into
healthy systems that local residents, along with native fish
and wildlife, can use as amenities, sanctuaries and habitats.
As a homeowner, your part can be as simple as maintaining
your car properly or building a rain garden on your lawn.
This guide provides you with the steps and actions you can
take to improve stormwater management on your property
or in your community. These stormwater management
projects will not only help protect our invaluable drinking
water sources, but they will help green the city, restore our
waterways and improve quality of life for all residents.
For more information, please visit www.PhillyRiverInfo.org
or e-mail [email protected]
Philadelphia Water Department
Vehicle Maintenance
y maintaining your car properly you can prevent oil
leaks, heavy metals and toxic materials from traveling
from your car onto the street. Rain washes oil and other
hazardous chemicals from the street into the nearest storm
drain, ultimately draining into the Delaware and Schuylkill
Rivers, the source of drinking water for many. Just imagine the
number of cars in our region and the amount of oil that finds
its way into our local waterways! It has been estimated that
each year over 180 million gallons of used oil is disposed of
improperly (Alameda CCWP, 1992), and that a single quart of
oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water (NDRC, 1994).
Please follow proper automotive maintenance.
Maintaining your Vehicle
• Maintain your car and always recycle used motor oil.
• Check your car or truck for drips and oil leaks regularly and
fix them promptly. Keep your vehicle tuned to reduce oil use.
• Use ground cloths or drip pans under your vehicle if you
have leaks or if you are doing engine work. Clean up spills
immediately and properly dispose of clean up materials.
• Collect all used oil in containers with tight-fitting lids. Old
plastic jugs are excellent for this purpose.
• Recycle used motor oil. Many auto supply stores, car care
centers, and gas stations will accept used oil. Do not pour
liquid waste down floor drains, sinks or storm drains.
• Do not mix waste oil with gasoline, solvents, or other engine
fluids. This contaminates the oil which may be reused,
increases the volume of the waste, and may form a more
hazardous chemical.
• Never dump motor oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid or other
engine fluids into road gutters, down the storm drain or catch
basin, onto the ground, or into a ditch.
• Many communities have hazardous waste collection days
where used oil can be brought in for proper disposal. Find out
about your program. Recycling just one gallon of used oil can
generate enough electricity to run the average household for
almost 24 hours.
• Try to use drain mats to cover drains in case of a spill.
• Store cracked batteries in leak proof secondary containers.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management Lawn & Garden Care
hen fertilizing lawns and using other common
chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides,
remember you’re not just spraying the lawn. When
it rains, the rain washes the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
along the curb and into storm drains, which ultimately carry
runoff into the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, our drinking
water source. In addition to degrading the water quality of our
streams and rivers, pesticides can kill critters in the stream and
fertilizers can cause algal blooms, which rob our waterways of
oxygen that fish need to survive. If you have to use fertilizers,
pesticides, and herbicides, carefully read all labels and apply
these products sparingly.
Many homeowners are unaware of the actual nutrient needs
of their lawns. According to surveys conducted by the Center
for Watershed Protection, over 50% of lawn owners fertilize
their lawns, yet only 10 to 20% of lawn owners take the trouble
to perform soil tests to determine whether fertilization is even
needed (CWP, 1999). Organic lawn care practices (no chemical
pesticides and fertilizers) can also be a wise environmental choice
and will save you money. Conduct a soil test on your lawn and
follow the below practices to reduce the need to fertilize on your
lawn and garden.
Caring for your Lawn and Garden
• Use fertilizers sparingly. Lawns and many plants do not need
as much fertilizer or need it as often as you might think. Test
your soil to be sure!
• Consider using organic fertilizers; they release nutrients more
• Never fertilize before a rain storm (the pollutants are picked
up by stormwater during rain events).
• Keep fertilizer off of paved surfaces—off of sidewalks,
driveways, etc. If granular fertilizer gets onto paved surfaces,
collect it for later use or sweep it onto the lawn.
• Use commercially available compost or make your own using
garden waste. Mixing compost with your soil means your
plants will need less chemical fertilizer and puts your waste to
good use. Another alternative is to use commercial compost,
called Earthmate, which is available for free through PWD.
Call 215-685-4065 or visit the website to learn more about
Earthmate: www.phila.gov/water/brc/brchow2get.html
• Let your grass clippings lay! Don’t bag the grass. Use a
mulching lawn mower to cut one-third of the blade length
each week and naturally fertilize your lawn in the process.
Philadelphia Water Department
Lawn & Garden Care
• Wash your spreader equipment on a pervious (penetrable)
vegetated area, like the lawn, to allow for the natural
absorption of excess fertilizer.
• Never apply fertilizer to frozen ground or dormant lawns.
• Maintain a buffer strip of unmowed natural vegetation
bordering waterways and ponds to trap excess fertilizers and
sediment from lawns/gardens.
• Grow an organic garden (no pesticides or fertilizers). Call the
Organic Landscape Alliance at 1-866-820-0279 or visit www.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management Pet Waste
hen animal waste is left on the ground, rainwater or
melting snow washes the pet waste into our storm
drains or directly into our local creeks. The diseasecausing bacteria found in pet waste eventually flows from our
local waterways into the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, our
drinking water source. In addition to contaminating waterways
with disease-carrying bacteria, animal waste acts like a fertilizer
in the water, just as it does on land. This promotes excessive
aquatic plant growth that can choke waterways and promote
algae blooms, robbing the water of vital oxygen.
Scooping Up the Poop
• Bag it! When going for dog walks, take a shopping bag or
sandwich bag. When doggy makes a deposit, turn the baggie
inside out over your hand and use it as a glove to pick up the
• Flush the pet waste down the toilet because then it is treated
at a sewage treatment plant.
• If flushing down the toilet is not a viable option, put the pet
waste in the trash, but never put waste into storm drains.
• Encourage your neighbors to provide pet waste stations for
collection and disposal of waste. Check to see if the parks in
your neighborhood have them.
• Dig a small trench in your yard where your pets tend to
defecate and toss the waste in the trench, cover with a layer of
leaves, grass clippings, and dirt.
• Dispose waste in disposal units called Doggy Loos where they
are installed into the ground. Decomposition occurs within
the unit.
• At the park, set up a pooch patch which has a pole
surrounded by a light scattering of sand around it. Dog
owners can introduce their dog to the pole upon entry to the
park. Dogs will then return to the patch to defecate and then
you can place the pet waste in special bins for disposal.
Philadelphia Water Department
Vehicle Washing
ar washing is a common routine for residents and a
popular way for organizations, such as scout troops,
schools, and sports teams to raise funds. However,
most of the time, cars are washed in driveways and parking
lots which allow wash water (dirty water) to finds its way to the
nearest storm drain, ultimately draining into our drinking water
sources, the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The wash water
often contains pollutants, such as oils and grease, phosphates
(from the soap), and heavy metals—all of which are unhealthy
for people and fish.
Washing Your Car Properly
• The best action is to take your vehicle to a commercial car
wash, especially if you plan to clean the engine or the bottom
of the car. Most car washes reuse water several times before
sending it for treatment at a sewage treatment plant.
If you still want to wash your car at home...
• Wash your car on gravel, grass or another permeable surface,
so the ground can filter the water naturally.
• Use soap sparingly. Try to use non-phosphate detergents.
Phosphates are nutrients that can cause problems for nearby
• Use a hose that is high pressure, low volume. Use a hose with
a nozzle that automatically turns off when left unattended or
one that has a pistol grip or trigger nozzle to save water. Wash
one section of the car at a time and rinse it quickly.
• When you’re done, empty your bucket of soapy water down
the sink, not the street.
• Block off the storm drain during charity car wash events or
use an insert with a vacuum pump to catch wash water and
empty it into the sink, not the street.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management Tree Planting
rees are not only a beautiful addition to the landscape,
but they also provide invaluable benefits to cities. They
reduce heat by cooling and shading homes during the
hot summer months, decreasing the amount of energy required
to cool a home and its related electric bills. Mature trees can
actually cut summer cooling costs by 40% and tree-lined blocks
can even decrease local temperatures. Trees naturally clean the
air of pollutants and create a neighborhood noise buffer. Trees
also improve stormwater management, reducing the amount
of polluted stormwater that normally would go directly into
storm drains. Tree roots also allow rainwater to filter back
into the soil, recharging the often thirsty water table. A 2005
study by the University of Pennsylvania found that trees can
increase property values. Planting a tree within 50 feet of a
house can increase its sale price by 10 to 15%. Some studies
even indicate that the mere presence of trees can create stronger
neighborhood ties and reduce crime.
Planting a Tree
If you have any tree planting
questions and need to ask an
expert, go to www.pennsylv
Before getting started, you may be interested in participating
in the TreeVitalize rebate program where you may be eligible
to receive up to a $25 rebate on the purchase of a tree. Whether
you are planting a tree in your yard or hiring a contractor to
plant a street tree, you may qualify. For more information, visit
www.treevitalize.net and www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.
Also, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders
Program offers a basic training course designed to teach general
tree-care skills to organized community groups and individuals
in Philadelphia. If you are interested in the course or a free copy
of the Tree Tenders Handbook or Mini-Guide to Tree Planting,
visit www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org/phlgreen/
1.Now, if you are ready to get started with your tree planting,
select a site appropriate for your tree.
2.Dig the hole at least 11⁄2 to 2 times the width of the root ball
(container) to be installed, and no deeper than the height of
the root ball so that the root flare (the top of the root mass)
is flush with the existing ground. The planting pit should be
dug so the walls of the pit are angled like a bowl or sloping
outward in heavy soils.
3.Break up the walls of the pit after digging, so that fine roots
can penetrate the soil. The soil that you dig out of the hole
is what you will use to backfill around the root ball. Soil
amendments are not recommended when planting a tree;
therefore, no compost, moss, or shredded pine bark should be
added to the backfill.
Philadelphia Water Department
Tree Planting
You can also volunteer to
plant trees elsewhere in
the city—along creeks and
streams in Fairmount Park
and at local schools. The
more trees in Philadelphia,
the healthier we will be!
Contact Fairmount Park,
Greater Philadelphia Cares
and UC Green to learn how
you can volunteer to plant
4.Remove all debris from the pit and gently tightly pack the
loose soil in the bottom of the pit by hand.
5.Cut and remove the rope and burlap from around the trunk
and check for root flare. Remove all nails. Drop the burlap
down to the bottom of the hole.
6.Do not handle the plant by the branches, leaves or stem. Place
the plant straight in the center of the planting pit, carrying
the plant by the root ball. Never carry a plant by the trunk or
7.After the tree is in the pit, carefully cut and remove the top
third of the wire basket and as much burlap as possible using
the least amount of disturbance.
8.Backfill planting pit with existing soil and pack it in there
tightly to fill all voids and air pockets. Do not over compact
soil. Make sure plant remains straight during backfilling/
packing procedure.
9. The top of the root mass (root flare) of the tree should be
flush with the final grade. Do not cover stem with soil. If
your tree has soil over the trunk flare (where the trunk cures
outward into the root system), it is essential to plant the trunk
flare above soil. Remove the soil from the root ball if the flare
is buried by it.
10.Water plant thoroughly and slowly, immediately after
planting to saturate backfill. For the first year after planting,
water the tree with 15 gallons per week. Use your index
finger to check the soil moisture under the mulch. If the
soil is cool to the touch, do not water. If it is warm and dry,
then water. A layer of mulch (i.e. shredded bark, compost)
should be placed around the tree, at a depth between 3 to 4
inches and with a radius of approximately 2 to 4 inches from
the tree stem. Do not rest the mulch directly against the
tree stem. The mulch makes it easier to water the tree and
reduces weed competition.
11.Remove all tags, labels, strings and wire form the plant
Many homeowners ask how a newly planted tree can affect the
sewer, water lines, sidewalk and/or building’s foundation? If you
choose the correct tree, site, and planting conditions, your tree
shouldn’t interfere with your sewer, waterline, etc. Most tree
roots grow in the soil’s top 12 inches and spread well beyond the
tree’s canopy in search of water and nutrients. They don’t “attack”
underground mains, unless these are already damaged, providing
entrances for developing roots. An adequate and generous tree
pit, or long, narrow continuous “tree lawn” will provide the best
conditions for establishing and maintaining a “well behaved”
tree with the environment needed to survive in the city.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management Tree Planting
Street Trees
If you do not have a yard,
but you would like to have a
tree in front of your property
­—on your sidewalk—you have
several options in Philadelphia.
You can get a tree for free
and installed at no cost by
Fairmount Park, however, this
may involve being placed on a
waiting list
You or a group from your
neighborhood can sign up
for a Tree Tenders program
through the Pennsylvania
Horticultural Society, where
you can get trained to care
for your tree, learn how to
organize a tree planting
project and receive free tree
care tools in exchange for your
Lastly, you can hire a
contractor approved by
Fairmount Park to plant a
tree in front of your house.
However, the contractor you
hire must apply for a Street Tree
Permit from Fairmount Park
before any work can be done.
The private planting could cost
you up to $500 (not including
the price of the tree).
Talk to your neighbors and find
out if there is a neighborhood
organization or Tree Tenders
group organizing a street tree
planting project. Some local
groups that do tree plantings,
include The South of South
Neighborhood Organization,
UC Green and Citizens Alliance.
Recommended Street Tree List for Philadelphia
The Fairmount Park Commission recommends the below list of
approved trees which will thrive in an urban setting, have a good
track record, and won’t interfere with overhead wires in Philadelphia.
Small Trees—Under 30 feet
Large Trees Over 47 feet
Acer buergeranum—Trident Maple
Acer rubrum (selected cultivars)—
Red Maple
Acer campestre—Hedge Maple
Acer ginnala­—Amur Maple
Acer tataricum—Tartarian Maple
Crataegus crus-galli ‘Inermis’—
Thornless Hawthorn, tree form
Crataegus laevigata ‘Superba’
—Crimson Cloud Hawthorn tree
Crataegus phaenopyrum—
Washington Hawthorn, tree form
Crataegus viridis—Winter King
Corylus colurna—Turkish Filbert
Fraxinus pennsylvanica ‘Patmore’—
Patmore Green Ash
Gleditsia triacanthos (selected
cultivars)—Honey Locust, a) Halka,
b) Moraine, c) Shademaster
Ginkgo biloba (male selections
Liquidambar styraciflua—
Prunus triloba—Flowering Plum
Quercus rubra—Red Oak
Malus (selected varieties)—
Quercus macrocarpa—Bur Oak
Quercus palustris—Pin Oak
Syringa reticulata—Japanese Tree
Sophora japonica—Japanese Pagoda
Medium Trees 30– 46 feet
Tilia cordata—Little Leaf Linden
Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’—Ruby
Red Horsechestnut
Zelkova serrata (selected cultivars)—
Japanese Zelkova—a) Green Vase,
b) Village Green
Cercidiphyllum japonica—Katsura
Cladrastis lutea—Yellowwood
Crataegus lavallei—Lavalle
Koelreuteria paniculata—Golden
Rain Tree
Malus (selected varieties)—
Ostrya virginiana—Hop Hornbeam
Phellodendron amurense—Amur
Cork Tree
Prunus x yedoensis—Yoshino
Ulmus parvifolia—Chinese Elm
Quercus acutissima—Sawtooth Oak
10 Philadelphia Water Department
Celtis occidentalis—Hackberry
Columnar Trees for Narrow
Acer rubrum ‘Armstrong’—
Armstrong Columnar Red Maple
Carpinus betulus fastigiata—
Pyramidal European Hornbeam
Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’—
Princeton Sentry Ginkgo Grafted
Male Variety
Prunus sargentii ‘Columnaris’—
Columnar Sargent Cherry
Quercus robur ‘Rose Hill’—Rose
Hill English Oak
Backyard Stream
stablish a streamside (riparian) buffer—a vegetated
area along the edge of the stream that protects it from
pollution and erosion. This buffer zone absorbs pollutants
and nutrients that would otherwise end up running directly into
the stream. Plant material slows runoff and filters out pollutants
and sediments. Well-planted streamside buffers are also a great
low-cost way to control erosion. While plants slow runoff, filter
pollutants, and help control erosion, trees cast shade on the
stream, cooling the water, reducing algae growth and improving
fish habitat. A buffer with trees and shrubs also becomes a home
to birds, butterflies and other creatures. Trees and plants that
grow in the buffer play a critical role in keeping streams healthy.
Caring for Your Stream
• Begin with a “no mow” or “no graze” zone along your stream
banks. Make your buffer as wide as possible.
• Plant trees and shrubs in your buffer zone. They provide
many long-lasting benefits and can be quite inexpensive to
establish and maintain.
• Using shrubs will give your buffer a quick start; many reach
full size in just a few years.
• Set your mower blades at least three inches high. Taller grass
slows runoff, resists drought and needs less fertilizer
• Use hay bales or a special silt fence to prevent soil from
washing off your site and into the stream while establishing
your stream buffer.
• Cover piles of soil with tarps to protect them from rain.
• Use good farm practices by not cultivating the soil and
planting winter cover crops to conserve soil.
• Contact your local DEP office or county conservation district
if you see soil runoff in the stream from a nearby construction
• Limit your overall use of pesticides and herbicides, and use
extreme caution when using them near streams.
• Keep grazing and other farm animals out of and away from
the stream. Contact your county conservation district or the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find out about farm fencing
• Compost yard waste. Don’t bag lawn trimmings or throw
them into the stream; leave them in place for effective
recycling of nutrients.
• Store firewood, trash and other materials well away from
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 11
Winter De-icing
s snow piles up in the winter, we oftentimes turn to
salt to melt snow and ice. Salt, however, causes adverse
environmental impacts, especially on our streams and
rivers, our drinking water source in Philadelphia. Excess salt
can saturate and destroy a soil’s natural structure and result in
more erosion to our waterways. High concentrations of salt
can damage and kill vegetation. Salt poses the greatest danger
to fresh water ecosystems and fish. Studies in New York have
shown that as salt concentrations increase in a stream, biodiversity decreases. Excess salt can seep into groundwater and
stormwater runoff. Effective ice control can help prevent excess
salt runoff to our waterways.
De-icing in the Winter
There are many alternatives to salt including potassium
chloride, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, corn
processing byproducts, and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA).
Most can be found in your local hardware stores under various
trade names, so check the labels for chemical content. While
these alternatives can be spread in a dry form or sprayed as
a liquid, their best use occurs when they are used with salt.
They tend to increase the efficiency of salt thereby reducing
the amount that needs to be applied. When over-applied, all
chloride compounds can be harmful to the environment. Nonchloride corn byproducts recycled from mills and breweries
have been shown to be effective de-icers as well. While they are
often advertised as organic or natural, they can have extremely
high phosphorus content, a major water pollutant. Numerous
studies have shown calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) to be
the most environmentally benign de-icer. Many northern states
use CMA on roads in sensitive areas (wetlands, endangered
species’ habitat, drinking water supply, etc.). A couple of
disadvantages with CMA however, is that it does not work
well below 25° Fahrenheit and it is the most expensive de-icer.
Because all de-icers can be harmful to the environment when
applied in excess, the best strategy is to reduce the use of these
chemicals as much as possible.
• The first line of defense should simply be to shovel sidewalks
and pathways to keep them clear and to prevent ice from
forming. Also, consider that salt and de-icers are not effective
when more than 3 inches of snow have accumulated.
• Consider the temperature. Salt and calcium magnesium
acetate (CMA) have a much slower effect on melting snow
and ice at temperatures below 25° Fahrenheit.
12 Philadelphia Water Department
Winter De-icing
• Track winter weather and only use salt and de-icers when a
storm is about to come through. If a winter storm does not
occur, sweep up any unused material, store, and reuse for the
next big storm.
• Apply de-icing products discriminately, focusing on highuse areas and slopes where traction is critical. Apply the least
amount necessary to get the job done. This will save money in
product costs and will also help minimize property damage to
paved surfaces, vehicles, and vegetation.
• Reduce salt and other chemicals by adding sand for traction.
• Become familiar with various de-icing products and wetting
agents such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride,
which can improve the effectiveness of salt and reduce the
amount needed.
• If you observe ongoing issues of ineffective ice management
or examples of poor application, such as excess piles of road
salt left to disperse, share your concerns with the property
manager of your residence or business, or with the City of
Philadelphia Streets Department. The Streets Department
Hotline is 215-686-5560 and their website is www.phila.gov/
• Plant native vegetation that is salt tolerant in stormwater
drainage swales and ponds that may receive salt-laden runoff.
Not only will these native species have a greater chance for
survival, but they will continue to act as an effective buffer for
our local waterways.
• Store salt and other products on an impervious
(impenetrable) surface, such as a basement floor, to prevent
ground contamination. Also store products in a dry, covered
area to prevent stormwater runoff.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 13
Planters (Container Gardens)
lanters reduce impervious cover (impenetrable surfaces,
such as concrete sidewalks, parking lots, etc.) by retaining
stormwater runoff rather than allowing it to directly
drain into nearby sewers and creeks. Planters offer “green space”
in tightly confined urban areas by providing a soil/plant mixture
suitable for stormwater capture and treatment. They can be used
on sidewalks, parking areas, back yards, rooftops and other
impervious areas.
Contained Planters
Contained planters are used for planting trees, shrubs, and
ground cover. The planter is either prefabricated or permanently
constructed and has a variety of shapes and sizes. Planters may
range from large concrete planters to potted plants arranged on
an impervious surface like the roof garden shown in the bottom
photos to left. Planters can be placed on impervious surfaces
like sidewalks, back yards, rooftops, or along the perimeter
of a building in order to catch stormwater runoff from the
roof. Contained planters may drain onto impervious surfaces
through holes in their base or by an overflow structure so the
plants do not drown during larger rain events.
Plants should be hardy and self-sustaining native species with
little need for fertilizers or pesticides. Planters can be made of
stone, concrete, brick, wood, or any other suitable material.
However, treated wood should be avoided if it leaches any toxic
Planters can be permanently fixed in place or easily moved
around to enable you to change the look of the planter garden
that you have created. Numerous manufactured pots and
planters are available at your local hardware or landscaping
store. You can create a “do-it-yourself ” planter or use
recycled items to create planters. Homemade planters may be
constructed by stacking and fastening wood beams or laying
and mortaring stones. There are many websites with detailed
instructions to help with this type of project, such as www.
taunton.com, www.hgtv.com, www.diynetwork.com.*
Creating a Contained Planter
• Purchase planters at the local hardware or landscaping store,
if you are not building your own planter box.
• Drill holes in the bottom of the planter if they are not already
*These are just a few of the websites PWD
came across during our research. These
particular companies are not endorsed by
PWD, nor can PWD verify any information
on these companies.
14 Philadelphia Water Department
• Fill the planter with soil and leave a 12 inch area from the soil
to the top of the planter.
• Choose native drought and saturation tolerant plants and
trees to plant in the planter.
• Occasionally turn or till the soil to improve infiltration.
Rain Barrels
rain barrel collects and stores stormwater runoff
from rooftops. By detaining (temporarily holding)
the stormwater runoff during a rain event, you can
help add capacity to the city’s sewer system and reduce sewer
overflows to our creeks and rivers, our drinking water source.
Also, the collected rain water can be reused for irrigation to
water lawns, gardens, window boxes or street trees.
Rain barrels can be purchased on-line or they can be built. If
you would like to purchase a rain barrel on-line, view the list of
retailers we came across in our research.*
Whether you buy or build a rain barrel, the most important
thing to remember is that they are only effective at stormwater
management when the stored water is emptied in between
storms, making room in the barrel for the next storm.
Building a Rain Barrel
Please read the Disclaimer
on the inside cover, if you
are interested in installing
this project.
• Rain barrels help lower water costs when the stored water is
recycled for lawn irrigation, for example.
• Rain barrels help reduce water pollution by reducing
stormwater runoff, which oftentimes picks up pollutants in
its path, such as oil, grease and animal waste, and transports
these pollutants to the nearest creek, river or stormdrain.
• Storing rainwater for garden and lawn use helps recharge
groundwater naturally.
Materials Needed for Building a Rain Barrel
• One 55 gallon drum
• One vinyl gutter elbow
• One 5 foot section vinyl
garden hose
• Drill (or a hole saw)
• One 4 foot diameter
atrium grate (basket used
in garden ponds and pool
• One 1/2 inch PVC male
• One 3/4 inch x 1/2 inch PVC
male adapter
• Router, jig saw or coping
• Measuring tape
• Waterproof sealant
(silicone caulk, PVC glue)
• Teflon tape
• Fiberglass window screen
material or mosquito
• One 5 foot section of drain
hose, drain line, or sump
• Cinder blocks or wooden
pump line (11/4 inch)
• One 11/4 inch female
barbed fitting and
• One 11/4 inch male
threaded coupling
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 15
Rain Barrels
Instructions for Building a Rain Barrel
Step 1. Cut Holes in Rain Barrel:
• Cut lower drain hole: Measure about 1 inch above the bottom
of the barrel (55 gallon drum) where the barrel side begins to
rise toward the top. Using a ¾ inch bit (or hole saw), drill a
hole through the barrel.
• Cut upper drain hole: Mark the upper drain hole according to
where you want the overflow to be in the upper region of the
barrel and in relationship to the lower drain. Use a 15/8 inch
hole saw to cut out the overflow hole.
*Rain Barrel Distributors
Clean Air Gardening
Day's Garden
ENVIRO ENERGY International Inc.
Gardener's Supply Company
Green Culture
Green Venture
Jerry Baker
Lee Valley Tools
Midwest Internet Sales
New England Rain Barrel and Composter
RainCatcher 4000
Rain King
Rainsaver USA
Real Goods
The Rain King
Spruce Creek Rainsaver
The Rain Pail
Urban Garden Center
This is not a comprehensive list of rain barrel
distributors or suppliers. This is a list of rain barrel
distributors that PWD came across during our
rain barrel research. The particular companies are
not endorsed by PWD, nor can PWD verify any
information on these companies.
16 Philadelphia Water Department
• Cut top hole for atrium grate (filter): Using the atrium grate as
a template for size, mark a circle at the center of the top of the
drum (locating the rainwater inlet in the center of the barrel
lets you pivot the barrel without moving the downspout).
Drill a ½ inch hole inside of the marked circle. Use a router,
jigsaw or coping saw to cut until the hole is large enough to
accommodate the atrium grate, which filters out large debris.
Don’t make the hole too big—you want the rim of the atrium
grate to fit securely on the top of the barrel without falling in.
• Cut notch to hold hose: Using a ½ inch bit or hole saw, cut out
a notch at the top of the barrel rim (aligned so that it is above
the lower drain hole). The notch should be large enough so
that the end of the hose with the adapter will firmly snap into
Step 2. Set Up Barrel and Modify Downspout:
• Set up barrel: Since water will only flow from the garden hose
when the hose is below the barrel, place the barrel on high
ground or up on cinder blocks or a sturdy wooden crate
underneath your downspout, making sure the barrel is level.
• Modify your downspout: Cut your existing downspout using
a saw so that the downspout’s end can be placed over the top
of your rain barrel. Use a vinyl downspout elbow that fits the
size of your downspout (usually 3 inch or 4 inch) to aim the
stormwater into the rain barrel or just simply place the barrel
right under the downspout.
Step 3. Assemble Parts:
• Attach garden hose to lower drain hole: Screw in the ½ inch
PVC male adapter to the lower drain hole. The hard PVC
threads cut matching grooves into the soft plastic of the
barrel. Unscrew the ½ inch PVC male adapter from the hole.
Wrap threads tightly with teflon tape (optional). Coat the
threads of the coupler with waterproof sealant (optional).
Screw the coated adapter back into the hole and let it sit
and dry for 24 hours (optional). Attach 5 foot garden hose
to the PVC male adapter. Attach the ¾ inch x ½ inch PVC
Rain Barrels
Don’t forget to empty
your rain barrel after
the storm!
male adapter to the other end of the hose (this can be readily
adapted to fit a standard garden hose).
• Attach drain hose (overflow hose) to upper drain hole: Put
the 1¼ inch male threaded coupling inside the barrel with
the threads through the hole. From the outside, screw the
1¼ inch female barbed fitting onto the threaded coupling.
Use silicone on the threads (optional). Attach 5 foot section
of drain hose to upper fitting and connect it to where the
original downspout was connected (sewer riser) in order to
transport the overflow into the sewer.
The overflow must be conveyed safely away from your
property and your neighbor’s property. If your downspout
was not originally connected to the sewer, place a splash pad
on the ground under the overflow hose to direct the flow
away from the foundation of your home.
Atrium Gate
• Place atrium grate and screen in top hole: Using
PVC glue, secure a piece of fine mesh window
screen inside or outside of the atrium grate to
filter out debris and control mosquitoes. Place the
atrium grate into the hole (basket down).
• Position the downspout: Position the end of your
downspout so it drains onto the atrium grate on
the rain barrel.
Drain Hose
Raised Base
Garden Hose
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 17
Rain Gardens
rain garden uses native plants and landscaping to soak
up rain water (stormwater) that flows from downspouts
or simply flows over land during a rain event. The
center of the rain garden holds several inches of water, allowing
the stormwater to slowly seep into the ground instead of flow
directly from your roof, yard or driveway into the nearest storm
drain, creek or river.
Creating a Rain Garden
Please read the Disclaimer
on the inside cover, if you
are interested in installing
this project.
• Plants for the garden
(see plant list)
• Hose, rope or string
• Level
• Shovel or spade
• Measuring tape
• Humus or other soil
amendments (optional)
• Downspout extension (also
• A rain garden allows 30% more water to seep into the ground
than a conventional lawn (South River Federation & Center
for Watershed Protection, 2002). This increase helps replenish
the groundwater supply (important during a drought!), and
also helps hold back stormwater from contributing to the stormwater and sewage overflows into nearby creeks and rivers.
• A rain garden reduces the amount of water pollution
that would otherwise eventually reach the streams and
rivers through stormwater runoff. Scientific studies have
demonstrated that the first inch of rainfall is responsible for
the bulk of the pollutants in stormwater runoff. A rain garden
is designed to temporarily hold this one-inch of rainfall and
slowly filter out many of the common pollutants in the water,
such as oil, grease, and animal waste, that would otherwise
flow into the waterways via the nearest stormdrain or
stormwater runoff.
• The native plants used in rain gardens require less water and
less fertilizer than conventional lawns. They also require less
maintenance and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Before starting this project, please conduct an Infiltration Test
(pages 26–27 ) to determine if your soil conditions are adequate
for a rain garden.
Step 1. Size and Locate your Rain Garden:
• First, measure the footprint of your house by getting the
area (length x width) of your house and then determine how
much of your rooftop area drains to the downspout you are
disconnecting to your garden (for gutters with a downspout at
Sizing Example
If the area of the house is 30 ft. x 30 ft. and
1/4 of this area drains to one downspout:
15 ft. x 15 ft. = 225 ft.2
20% of 225 ft.2 = 45 ft.2
30% of 225 ft.2 = 67.5 ft.2
The rain garden area should be between
45 and 67.5 square feet, depending on soil
type (use 20% for sandier soils).
30 ft.
House Roof
30 ft.
Roof area
drainage to
7 ft.
10 ft.
18 Philadelphia Water Department
7 ft.
Rain Gardens
each end, assume that half the water goes to each downspout).
Refer to the sizing example for guidance. Be sure you measure
the house footprint only, but include the area of any driveway
or patio areas that will drain to the rain garden (do not take
the roof slope into account). The surface area of your rain
garden should be between 20% and 30% of the roof area that
will drain into the rain garden.
• Locate the garden at least 10 feet away from your house and
your neighbor’s house (to prevent water leakage), and create
the garden in the lowest point of this section of your lawn,
maintaining a minimum 1% slope from the house down
to the rain garden. If your yard drain is also located in this
section of the lawn, you can build the rain garden around the
drain. The bottom of the rain garden would be a few inches
lower than the drain and the overflow would actually be in
the middle of the rain garden.
• If you build the rain garden around your yard drain, when
it fills up with water, the water that overflows from the
garden will be conveyed safely to the yard drain. If you are
not building around the yard drain, it is imperative that the
overflow is safely conveyed to a drain nearby to prevent it
from flowing into your neighbor’s property.
Make sure the drain is in a suitable location in relation to
the rain garden in order to effectively manage the garden’s
Garden Cross Section
Minimum 10 ft.
distance to house
6 in.
Organic Material 2–3 in.
Level grade
• When finding the right spot for your rain garden, keep in
mind that you will want to create a shallow ditch or swale
that carries the stormwater runoff from the disconnected
downspout to the rain garden. The swale will help slow the
runoff before it reaches the rain garden.
• Finally, lay out the boundary of the garden with a rope.
Step 2. Dig the Rain Garden:
• To enable the rain garden to hold several inches of water
during a storm, you’ll have to dig a hole 3 to 4 inches deep
across the entire surface of the rain garden. If the soil lacks
organic material, you can improve it by digging the hole 5 to
6 inches deep, and adding 2 to 3 inches of humus or other
organic material. Make sure the bottom is level, but gently
slopes from the bottom to the ground level around the edges.
If the drop at the edge is too steep, you might get some
erosion around the edges.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 19
Rain Gardens
• Next, test how the garden will hold water during a storm by
letting water flow into the rain garden from a hose placed
at the downspout. Based on this test, make any necessary
adjustments (e.g., create a berm on the lower side of the
garden using the diggings—the soil that was excavated).
Step 3. Add Plants to the Rain Garden:
• Choose native plants that won’t require much watering, but
make sure they can withstand wet soils for up to 24 hours.
(Refer to the list of native plants below.)
• Also, take into account how much sun your garden receives.
It’s often helpful to draw out a planting plan before you start,
and mark planting areas within the garden with string. After
planting, weeding may be required until the plants become
established. You may also need to periodically prune some
of the plants to let others grow. In the winter, leave dead or
dormant plants standing and cut back in the spring.
• Your garden may need a bit more maintenance than a lawn in
the beginning, but in the long run it will be easier to care for
and provide many added benefits!
Native Plants Recommended by Fairmount Park for Rain Gardens
Bee-balm—Monarda didyma
Black-eyed Susan—Rudbeckia hirta
Blazing star—Liatris spicata
Blue flag iris—Iris versicolor
Boneset—Eupatorium perfoliatum
Butterfly weed—Asclepias tuberosa
Cardinal flower—Lobelia cardinalis
Early goldenrod—Solidago bicolor
Golden alexander—Zizia aurea
Joe-pye weed—Eupatorium
New England aster—Aster novaeangliae
New York ironweed—Veronia
Obedient plant—Physostegia
Ox-eye—Heliopsis helianthoides
Solomon’s seal—Polygonatum
White snakeroot—Eupatorium
20 Philadelphia Water Department
Grasses and Grass-like plants
Big bluestem—Andropogon
Bottle brush grass—Elymus hystrix
Canada wild rye—Elymus
Path rush—Juncus tenuis
Purple-top—Tridens flavus
Soft rush—Juncus effusus
Switch-grass—Panicum virgatum
Virginia wild rye—Elymus
Gray dogwood—Cornus racemosa
Highbush blueberry—Vaccinium
Mountain laurel—Kalmia latifolia*
Ninebark—Physocarpus opulifolius
Pasture rose—Rosa carolina
Red osier dogwood—Cornus
Spicebush—Lindera benzoin
Sweet pepperbush—Clethra
Christmas fern—Polystichum
Hay-scented fern—Dennstaedtia
Rattlesnake fern—Botrychium
Sensitive fern—Onoclea sensibilis
*Pennsylvania’s state flower
When purchasing plants, pay close
attention to the scientific names
to ensure the correct species are
Wildflower Meadow
ildflower meadows present excellent opportunities
for stormwater management, promoting groundwater infiltration, water quality treatment, and even
flood control. Also, when using native plants in a meadow you
are not only providing an aesthetically pleasing landscape, but
preserving native species and biodiversity, and creating habitat
for wildlife. Meadows allow you to spend less time mowing,
less time applying fertilizers and lawn chemicals, and less
time watering in the summer months. This low maintenance
structure helps protect our nearby local streams from pollutants
and other chemicals, in addition to flooding conditions, thereby
helping to protect the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, the
source of our drinking water in Philadelphia.
Creating a Wildflower Meadow
Step 1. Site Selection: First, you need to choose a suitable
location, preferably an open sunny site that gets at least six
hours of sun every day. It should have good air movement. This
helps keep diseases down, and the movement caused by wind
will make plants sturdier, and stems stronger. The site should
have few weeds. An already cultivated site such as a field or
garden plot is ideal. A lawn can work too. The hardest is an
overgrown garden bed, or old field full of aggressive weeds and
grasses. A site next to such an area to transform is also difficult,
due to weed seeds blowing in. A site next to a formal landscape
may also be a hard sell. In such formal areas, an informal
transition area may be necessary.
Step 2. Plant Selection: Plant selection is important for long
bloom, as noted already, but more importantly for species that
will last under your conditions. Soil type is not as important
as whether the site is dry or moist. A dry site is best. The key
is to have a diversity of species, as found in nature, with a
mix of graminoides (grasses and grass-like plants) and forbs
(flowering meadow wildflowers). If you don’t create your own
mixture, buy a good quality seed mix from a reputable supplier.
When it comes to these seeds, you truly get what you pay for.
Inexpensive mixes often contain mainly annuals which are gone
after the first year, contain non-native species, seeds that have
poor germination, potential weedy species, or just a lot of seed
debris. Another consideration under species selection, whether
you buy a mix or make your own mixture, is whether you
want a short term (1 to 5 years) or longer term meadow. In the
former you may have more annuals for color up front, but keep
in mind that they may be out competed with weeds after a few
years. A long term meadow may have mainly perennials which
may take several years to begin a good display, but will last and
out compete many weeds.
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 21
Step 3. Site Preparation: This is the step often overlooked, yet
the key to success or failure. Since these wildflowers are usually
less competitive than weeds, the site should contain no weeds or
weed seeds. Unless the site has been cultivated already, with few
to no weeds, there are several methods you may use.
You may smother vegetation with black plastic for a whole
growing season. You may also smother existing growth with
thick layers of leaves, grass clippings, or newspapers. Another
method is to plant a summer buckwheat crop, cut and tilled in
before going to seed, followed by fall planting of winter wheat,
cut and tilled in late winter. You may need to repeat this a
second season. Or you may repeat deep soil tillage every three
weeks for a full growing season. If it’s a lawn with no weeds,
remove the sod using a sod-cutter that can be rented from
equipment rental firms. Many use a systemic herbicide, but
avoid those that are residual (last in the soil).
The number of plants of any
one type will depend on
how you will be viewing the
meadow. If seeing it from
a distance, you’ll want to
use larger numbers of each
plant type, and place them in
sweeping masses. If creating
a small area, or one viewed
at close range, you may have
few of any one type plant,
and have them all mixed.
Step 4. Sowing or Planting: You may sow in spring or early
summer, which favors grasses over the forbs. Keep the springsown meadow watered as you would a newly seeded lawn, often
for a month or two. Sowing in early fall favors the forbs, as some
grass seeds rot then. Since many seeds will either not germinate
until the following spring, or germinate and not grow until then,
you should also use annual rye as a winter cover crop with fall
sowings. Avoid sowing in mid to late summer when there may
be droughts or seeds drying out before germinating. For sowing,
aim for about 80 seeds per square foot. In several years this will
result in one or two plants in this space. Of this number per
square foot, for spring sowing use about 60 forb and 20 grass
seeds. This is about 9 lbs. and 3 lbs. per acre. For fall sowing, use
a higher proportion of grass seeds.
For small areas (for instance under 1000 square feet), consider
using already-germinated small plants you can buy in trays
as “plugs.” These are more costly than seeds, but will establish
more quickly. You can find these at specialty suppliers, either
local, mail-order, or online.
Step 5. Post-planting management: In the first two years, seeds
of annual and biennial weeds still in the soil or blown in will
grow faster than your perennial wildflowers. Don’t allow such
weeds the first year to get above one foot tall before cutting back
to four to six inches high. The wildflowers will, for the most
part, remain short and below this height. The second year, cut
back to about one foot high since plants will be larger. A weed
or string trimmer works well for this. Don’t pull weeds, as this may
also disturb wildflower seedlings. Don’t use herbicides as these
may drift, killing large patches of both weeds and wildflowers!
In the third and future years, mow it close to the ground. This
should be done in late fall or early spring, removing the debris
from mowing. This exposes the soil to the rapid warmth from
the sun in spring, encouraging your wildflowers over coolseason weeds. Learn your wildflowers, and over the years you
can selectively weed out any weeds or woody plant seedlings.
22 Philadelphia Water Department
Dry Well
• Vinyl downspout elbow
to fit your downspout
(typically 3 in. or 4 in.)
ry wells are small, excavated pits, filled with stone or
gravel that temporarily stores stormwater runoff until
it infiltrates (soaks) into the surrounding soil. The
stormwater can come straight off of the roof of your house
via a downspout that either indirectly or directly connects to
the dry well. It can travel indirectly to the dry well through a
grassy swale or it can travel directly into the well through a
pipe. This design guide describes how you can disconnect your
downspout to a swale and dry well that is sized based on the
included sizing table (noted below). Dry wells help protect our
rivers and streams in combined and separate sewered areas.
They help add capacity to Philadelphia’s sewer system during
heavy rainfalls by helping prevent the stormwater runoff from
reaching the system and instead allowing the runoff to soak
into the surrounding soil. In separate sewered areas, the impact
of stormwater runoff on neighborhood streams, is reduced.
By infiltrating the stormwater runoff on land, the combined
(sewage and stormwater) sewer overflows into the Delaware and
Schuylkill Rivers are reduced, thereby decreasing pollution in
our streams, lessening flooding impacts and improving water
quality in our rivers, our drinking water source. Dry wells also
recharge groundwater through infiltration, which leads to more
flow in streams during dry weather (when it is not raining) and
less streambank erosion during wet weather (when it is raining).
• Landscape non-woven
geotextile fabric
Building a Dry Well
Please read the Disclaimer
on the inside cover, if you
are interested in installing
this project.
• Measuring tape
• Shovel
• Saw
• Wheelbarrow
- Make sure the fabric is porous
enough to allow water to pass
through it.
• Crushed stone
- Use stone that is approximately
1–11/2 in. diameter.
- Wash the stone to make sure
that it is clean. You can use a
sieve to remove fine material
if the stone seems to have a lot
of small particles.
- It is important that the stone
is washed (no dust or particles)
and that the stone is uniformly
the same size.
- The stone does not have to
be very large; it just has to be
roughly of a similar size to
get the maximum amount of
void space in the stone while
maintaining the structure of
the well.
Site Preparation
• Conduct an Infiltration Test (see pages 24–25) to determine if
your soil conditions are suitable for a dry well.
• Make sure buried electrical, telephone, and TV cables and gas
piping are not going to be a problem in the area that you will
be digging your dry well. If you don’t know where they are
located, call PA One Call at 1-800-242-1776 at least three days
before you dig.
• Install leaf guards to prevent leaves and other plant material
from entering the downspout and clogging the dry well.
• Determine the size of the well. Read through the Dry Well
Sizing section of this fact sheet.
• Determine the volume of crushed stone you will need.
Volume of Stone = Dry Well Area x 11/2 feet
For example: 33 square feet x 11/2 feet = 49.5 cubic feet of
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 23
Dry Well
Dry Well Sizing
• Refer to the sizing table. Decide what size storm you would
like to store and infiltrate in your dry well. Find the closest
number in Column A. About one-third of storms in the
Philadelphia area are 0.25 inches or less, 60% are 0.5 inches or
less, and 85% are 1.0 inch or less.
• Estimate the roof area draining to the dry well (length [ft.]
x width [ft.] = area in square feet). Find the closest value in
Column B for the storm depth you have chosen. At this point,
you have narrowed your choice down to just one line of the
• Find the area required for your dry well in Column D. When
you multiply your dry well length and width, the resulting
number (area) needs to be at least as great as the number in
Column D. Columns E and F show examples of lengths and
widths that will work.
• Determine whether your yard and budget will allow you to
build a dry well of this size with a safe overflow. If not, choose
a smaller storm and repeat the steps. Storing a larger storm
provides a greater benefit, but also requires more space and
costs more. Storing even the smallest storm in the table will
provide benefits.
• The dry well should have a safe overflow, such as an
overflow to your yard drain. In larger storms, your dry well
will fill up, and you need to make sure that the overflow
doesn’t damage your property or your neighbors’ properties.
Keep in mind that the yard drain has to be slightly downhill
from the dry well.
• The dry well should be at least 10 feet from your house and
any other buildings that are level with yours. It should be at
least 25 feet from buildings that are downhill from the dry
Storm Depth =
0.5 inches (Lines 4-6, Column A)
Roof Area =
250 square feet (Line 5, Column B)
Dry Well Dimensions
Storm Depth
Dry Well Area =
19 square feet (Line 5, Column D)
Possible Dimensions:
7 feet long by 3 feet wide =
21 square feet
(Line 5, Columns E and F)
4 feet long by 5 feet wide =
20 square feet
6 feet long by 3.5 feet wide =
21 square feet
24 Philadelphia Water Department
to Dry
(sq. ft.)
(sq. ft.)
Dry Well
Step 1. Modify your downspout. Cut your existing downspout
close to the ground using a saw so that a vinyl downspout elbow
can fit over the disconnected downspout (usually 3 or 4 inches).
The elbow should aim the stormwater runoff into the swale
Step 2. Dig a swale—a small channel or ditch starting from
the point below the disconnected downspout to the dry well
location. The swale should be just a few inches deep and wide.
The swale should slope downward from the downspout to the
dry well. The runoff draining from the disconnected downspout
through the swale should drain readily toward the dry well.
Step 3. After preparing the site and determining the size of your
well, shape the well, using the Dry Well Sizing Table.
Step 4. Line the well with landscape fabric (non-woven geotextile fabric or filter cloth). Make sure it is porous enough to
allow water to pass through it. Also, excess fabric should be
folded over the edges of the well. The fabric prevents surrounding
soil from getting into the system and clogging it up.
Step 5. Fill the well with the crushed stone. You can either a)
fill the well with stones all of the way to the top until flush with
the surrounding soil, b) fill the well with stones just a few inches
from the top of the well, add a layer of geotextile fabric and
backfill over the well with soil to plant in it (make sure the layer
of fabric is between the stone and soil), or c) fill the well with
stones just a few inches from the top of the well, add a layer of
geotextile fabric, add a plastic grid on top and river rocks, as
shown in the photograph. Just make sure that you don’t mound
the stone or soil, or water will not be able to flow into your dry
Step 6. Seed and mulch the swale so the water traveling from
your downspout to the dry well doesn’t cause erosion.
Post-Construction Maintenance
• Homeowners should make sure they clean their gutters on
a regular basis. This will help to prevent the system from
• Dry wells should be inspected at least four times annually as
well as after large storm events.
Vinyl Downspout Elbow
Downward Slope
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 25
Infiltration Test
It is important that
water infiltrate well
even during saturated
conditions. Conduct
your infiltration test
after a rain storm.
n infiltration test will help you determine if the soil on
your property is suitable for certain types of stormwater
management measures, such as a dry well or rain
garden. An infiltration test measures how quickly water can
soak in and flow through the soil. It is important to know how
your soil infiltrates water before building a dry well, rain garden
or any other stormwater management structure.
• 6 inch diameter
• Hand sledge and
wood block
• Plastic wrap
• 500 mL plastic
bottle or
graduated cylinder
Figure 1
Using the hand sledge and block of
wood, drive the 6 inch diameter ring,
beveled edge down, to a depth of
three inches.
6 inch diameter ring
3 inches
above soil surface
3 inches
into the soil
• Water
• Stopwatch or timer
• Pen and paper
Step 1. Drive Ring into Soil:
• Clear the sampling area of surface residue, etc. If the site is
covered with vegetation, trim it as close to the soil surface as
500 ML Bottle
Distilled Water
Plastic Wrap
• Using the hand sledge and block of wood,
drive the 6 inch diameter ring, beveled edge
down, to a depth of three inches (see Figure 1).
• If the soil contains rock fragments, and the
ring cannot be inserted to the depth, gently
push the ring into the soil until it hits a rock
Step 2. Firm Soil:
• With the 6 inch diameter ring in place, use
your finger to gently firm the soil surface
only around the inside edges of the ring to
prevent extra seepage. Minimize disturbance
to the rest of the soil surface inside the ring.
6 inch diameter ring
Figure 2
Pour the 444 mL of water (1 inch of water) into the ring
lined with plastic wrap.
26 Philadelphia Water Department
Step 3. Line Ring with Plastic Wrap:
• Line the soil surface inside the ring with a
sheet of plastic wrap to completely cover
the soil and ring as shown in Figure 2. This
procedure prevents disturbance to the soil
surface when adding water.
Infiltration Test
Plastic Wrap
Step 4. Add Water:
• Fill the plastic bottle or graduated
cylinder to the 444 mL (1 inch)
mark with water. Pour the 444 mL
of water (1 inch of water) into the
ring lined with plastic wrap as
shown in Figure 2.
Step 5. Remove Wrap and Record
• Remove the plastic wrap by gently
pulling it out, leaving the water
in the ring (Figure 3). Note the
6 inch diameter ring
time. Record the amount of time
(in minutes) it takes for the 1 inch
Figure 3
of water to infiltrate the soil. Stop
Remove the plastic wrap by gently pulling it out, leaving the
timing when the surface is just
water in the ring.
glistening. If the soil surface is
uneven inside the ring, count the time until half of the
surface is exposed and just glistening. Record the time.
Step 6. Repeat Infiltration Test:
• In the same ring, perform Steps 3, 4, & 5 with a second
inch of water. Record the number of minutes elapsed
for the second infiltration measurement. Repeat the
test (Steps 3, 4, & 5) a few more times. All of the tests
should be conducted consecutively. If the test continues
to yield the same results, you will have a good idea of
the saturated infiltration rate. If the soil infiltrates the
water under 1 hour, your soil is ready for a dry well, rain
garden or any of the other structural projects in this
Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management 27
Photo Credits
Vehicle Maintenance
Washington State Puget Sound Action
Backyard Stream
NAM Planning & Design
Rain Gardens
page 19-20 – Roger Bannerman,
Wisconsin Department of Natural
Winter De-Icing
Chuck Leonard
Creating a Wildflower Meadow
Robin Sasek, CDM
Pet Waste
Washington State Puget Sound Action
Planter Boxes
Multiple planters – Miriam Manon
Single planter – Clint Bautz
Dry Wells
Wissahickon Valley Watershed
Vehicle Washing
Washington State Puget Sound Action
Rain Barrels
page 15 – Three Rivers Wet Weather
Demonstration Program
page 16 – Michael Pickel
Lawn & Garden Care
Washington State Puget Sound Action
Tree Planting
page 8 – TreeVitalize
Vehicle Maintenance
1. Center for Watershed Protection
(2002). Fact Sheet #6: Vehicle
Maintenance. Skills for Protecting Your
Stream: Retrofitting Your Own Back
2. Washington State Puget Sound
Action Team. Water Quality Tip Card.
Vehicle Maintenance. www.psat.
Lawn & Garden Care
1. Washington State Puget Sound
Action Team. Water Quality Tip Card.
Lawn & Garden Care. www.psat.
2. Center for Watershed Protection
(2002). Fact Sheet #1: Lawn Care
Practices/Reducing Overfertilization.
Skills for Protecting Your Stream:
Retrofitting Your Own Back Yard.
Pet Waste
1. Center for Watershed Protection
(2002). Fact Sheet #5: Vehicle Washing.
Skills for Protecting Your Stream:
Retrofitting Your Own Back Yard.
2. Washington State Puget Sound
Action Team. Water Quality Tip Card.
Pet Waste. www.psat.wa.gov/Programs/
Vehicle Washing
1. Center for Watershed Protection
(2002). Fact Sheet #5: Vehicle Washing.
Skills for Protecting Your Stream:
Retrofitting Your Own Back Yard.
2. Washington State Puget Sound
Action Team. Water Quality Tip Card.
Vehicle Washing. www.psat.wa.gov/
Tree Planting
1. Wachter, Dr. Susan M. The
Determinants of Neighborhood
Transformations in Philadelphia
Identification and Analysis: The New
Kensington Pilot Study. The Wharton
School, University of Pennsylvania
(Spring 2005). www.wharton.upenn.
2. Welsh, Doughlas F. (1997). Planting
a Tree. Texas A&M University. aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/extension/
Backyard Stream
1. Lower Merion Conservancy.
Safeguarding Our Streams (2002)
2. Morris Arboretum of the University
of Pennsylvania. Twenty-five Ways to
Protect Your Stream and Streamside
Property. Brochure.
Winter De-Icing
1. Maryland Department of the
Environment (2005). Facts About Winter
Weather, Chemical De-icers and the
Chesapeake Bay.
28 Philadelphia Water Department
Rain Barrels
1. South River Federation & Center for
Watershed Protection (August 2002).
How to Build and Install a Rain Barrel.
Instructional Flyer. Chesapeake Bay
Trust grant.
Rain Gardens
1. South River Federation & Center
for Watershed Protection (August
2002). How to Install a Rain Garden.
Instructional Flyer. Chesapeake Bay
Trust grant.
2. University of Wisconsin—Extension:
Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources. Rain Gardens: A Household
Way to Improve Water Quality in Your
Community (2002).
Creating a Wildflower Meadow
1. Center for Watershed Protection
(2002). Fact Sheet #3: Creating
a Wildflower Meadow. Skills for
Protecting Your Stream: Retrofitting
Your Own Back Yard.
2. Perry, Dr. Leonard Successful
Wildflower Meadows. University
of Vermont Extension and U.S.
Department of Agriculture (6 Oct.
2005). pss.uvm.edu/ppp/pubs/
Infiltration Test
1. United States Department of
Agriculture (August 1999). Soil Quality
Test Kit Guide.
Printed on recycled paper